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Violence against women in France - statistics & facts

The Convention known as the "Istanbul Convention," ratified by France in July 2014, defines violence against women as "all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women." This definition first points to the protean nature of these acts of violence, which can also be distinguished according to the sphere of life in which they occur, and according to their perpetrators. It also highlights the fact that this violence cannot be attributed solely to an interaction between two specific individuals, but rather is part of the historically unequal balance of power between men and women, which is one of the main social mechanisms responsible for the domination and discrimination of the latter by the former.

Victims of sexual violence

In France, the first victims of sexist and sexual violence are children: according to the Haut Conseil à l'égalité entre les femmes et les hommes (High Council for Equality between Women and Men), out of 300,000 rapes committed per year, 60 percent are committed on victims under 11 years old. Moreover, among the victims of rape, assault or sexual harassment aged under 18, more than three quarters are women. By 2020, law enforcement agencies had recorded more than 25,000 such cases. Women with disabilities are also at greater risk of gender-based and sexual violence: in 2018, 7.3 percent of people living with disabilities reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in the previous two years, compared to five percent of able-bodied people.

Indeed, while being a woman, in terms of social category, is already a factor of discrimination, some women find themselves at the intersection of several of these factors. Thus, although France "does not see colors", and there are no studies on race, in the social sense of the term, of the victims of sexist and sexual violence, there is no doubt that sexist and misogynistic stereotypes severely affect minority women. The same applies to lesbians, who, by doubly transgressing the social norm of heterosexuality, are more affected than heterosexual women, or for transgender women, whose assaults, fueled by a combination of transphobia and sexism, are numerous. In addition, with sexual violence being a matter of class and precariousness, sex workers are also more vulnerable to violence.

A deficient judicial system

These stereotypes have serious consequences on the reception of the victims' voices and on the treatment of sexual violence cases by representatives of the justice system. One of the most common criticisms made of victims of physical and/or sexual violence, regardless of the context, is not filing a complaint. The discourse surrounding violence against women in the media often ignores the psychotraumatic mechanisms at work among victims. Thus, if trauma studies teach us that a victim in a state of shock or paralysis cannot defend themselves when their physical or psychological integrity is threatened, post-traumatic mechanisms also explain why the victim does not immediately realize the violence they have just experienced. Thus, because of this traumatic memory, the delay between the event and its disclosure can be very long.

While traumatic memory should be taken into account, other factors tend to explain the reluctance of some victims to file a complaint. In 2020, nearly three-quarters of cases of sexual violence were closed without prosecution. In addition, only one-third of victims who file a complaint of domestic and sexual violence report positive treatment from the authorities. Among the types of mistreatment identified, a survey shows that the most frequent type is the trivialization of the facts (more than two-thirds of respondents reported this), followed by the refusal of police to take the complaint. And yet, in France, the receipt of complaints is a legal obligation for police officers.

Strengthening state implication

Given these deficiencies, associations play a key role. In France, organizations that help victims of gender-based and sexual violence exist throughout the country, and offer support and accommodation facilities aimed at keeping female victims of violence and their children safe, as well as training adapted to different types of professionals. Although the government supports these associations, its participation remains insufficient and, according to a recent survey, should be improved. For example, French authorities had reserved 7,820 emergency accommodation places dedicated to women in 2021, which represents a significant increase compared to the number of places available in the previous decade, but remains largely insufficient. According to the Haut Conseil pour l'Egalité entre les femmes et les hommes, more than 20,000 women and children need emergency accommodation each year to help them leave a violent spouse. In addition, in many cases of femicide, previous violence had already been reported to law enforcement. And while the Court of Appeals is deploying restraining bracelets and protection orders, these numbers show the inadequacy of the judicial response to violence against women. Reinforcing the prosecution of sexual crimes and assaults against women is actually the measure that the French mention first when reflecting on the measures that the government should take in the face of this violence.

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